Ambassador Talks About Japan’s 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami
February 9, 2012 – The United States ambassador to Japan told a Georgetown audience yesterday that the devastation of the 9.0-magntitude earthquake and tsunami this past March, “looked like a Hollywood disaster set.”
John V. Roos, who has served as the United States ambassador to Japan since August 2009, says he made his first visit to Ishinomaki, one of the coast towns heavily damaged by the huge tidal wave, just 12 days after the catastrophe.
“I can’t even begin to adequately describe to you the scenes from the streets as we drove through town,” Roos says, adding he saw twisted metal, cars atop buildings and rescue crews pulling bodies out of rubble.
Georgetown’s Office of the President and its Asian Studies Program sponsored Roos’ talk, called “Japan’s Mega-Disaster: An On-the-Ground Perspective.”
According to the Japanese National Police Agency, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed 15,846 people, injuring 6,011 and 3,320 people missing. Roos says the disaster displaced nearly 450,000 people and caused $800 billion in damage.
The ambassador says he visited an elementary school set up as a housing shelter during his tour, listening to survival stories from families who lost family members as well their homes.
Survival and Loss
“I was overwhelmed as I listened to their stories of survival and loss,” Roos says, calling it “one of the most moving events of my life.”
Roos says he first received news of the nuclear situation at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant minutes after the earthquake after in the U.S. embassy parking lot.
The ambassador visited the Fukushima power plant for the first time since the disaster last month and witnessed 50-ton trucks that were twisted and reactors that looked like “heaping piles of scrap metal.”
“I can tell you that television does not do justice to the total destruction that ensued,” Roos says.
After a week, the U.S. and Japan teams were able to fully coordinate joint response efforts to stabilize the situation at the plant.
The U.S. provided tools from trucks and water barges and personnel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in support and standby roles.
“We mobilized rapidly and on a significant scale given the humanitarian crisis and the dangerous Fukushima situation that was unfolding,” he says. “But I want to emphasize here again the support role with always the Japanese in the lead.”
Roos says U.S. involvement in the Japan relief effort “was the right thing to do,” adding that Japan was “critically important” and a “global partner” with the U.S.
“Japan plays a critical role in both the economic and physical security of the Asia-Pacific region,” Roos says, adding that the country is estimated to provide 50 percent of the global economy. “Our re-emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region puts Japan at the leading edge of our national security posture.”